Editing Manuscripts

Once a book, film script or other piece of work is finished it’s very rarely in a perfect state for selling. There is always something that needs editing or changing slightly, and those pesky spelling mistakes not picked up by spell checker because they are still a word.

There are a lot of indie authors publishing their books and not paying for an editor first. While this can work if the author has acquired plenty of help editing themselves it can still leave some mistakes. Here’s a list of things you can do to minimise the mistakes that slip through the net.

  • Leave it for a month or two and come back to it.
  • Get several friends and fans to read over an advanced copy of the manuscript.
  • Read it aloud to yourself.
  • Read it backwards.
  • Write it out by hand.

Leave it for a month or two

Often when writing the author can get very attached to what they have written, snippets of conversation, and the way they have described something. Putting the manuscript on a shelf for a short while and coming back to it can help give a fresh perspective on what is actually necessary and what isn’t. Sometimes we have to cut out parts we like because they aren’t helping progress the story along at all.

It can also be helpful if we have time to forget some of those paragraphs that we’ve worked on so much we’ve memorised them. Knowing the manuscript too well can lead to errors being missed because our brain automatically tells us what it should be.

Friends and fans reading advanced copies

This is one idea I thoroughly recommend people use for two reasons. Other readers are less attached to your work and it can be a great way to reward fans. There are a lot of people who, once they have already decided they like your work, will be very eager to help you out in return for getting to read your new books before anyone else. They are also going to be the most forgiving of any mistakes you do make as they will feel like they can help you put it right.

Reading aloud

I’ve found this is one of the best methods of catching mistakes, especially things like wordy sentences and monologues. I also recommend this is done in all film manuscripts long before it finds it’s way into the hands of any prospective actors or investors. You’ll be surprised what seems right on the page but sounds very wrong the minute you speak it out.

I’ve found that reading out loud can also help with the placement of punctuation. Most comma’s and full stops go in the sensible pauses you take while reading aloud. Sometimes you can find you have placed too many commas in a sentence or two few and the whole emphasis can be lost.

Reading backwards

While the above methods are all useful, the human brain is a little too clever for every mistake to be spotted. The brain naturally corrects things it knows to be wrong. This can often mean repeated words can be missed, as well as words being slightly out of order, and letters within words being in the wrong order. To stop the brain correcting things it can help to read the book or film manuscript in reverse order, checking each word as you go.

Writing the whole thing out

I’m not entirely sure I’d actually recommend this type of proofing if all the above have been done, however, it was something I did. Yup you heard me right. I wrote my entire book out by hand when I had finished it. It was a present for a very awesome friend and fan of mine for Christmas. I had a really thick leather bound journal and wrote a personal letter to them on the front page and filled the rest with my book.

While I was writing I had to concentrate so hard on writing it out word for word that I noticed quite a few mistakes and could correct them. It was mostly useful for using the same word too often but I also caught quite a few punctuation errors and formatting errors that way.

I am not sure if I would actually write out future books by hand though.

Everything I have listed above does help with editing and getting the book up to scratch and I can’t stress how important it is that any book goes through a very rigorous editing process. The best way of course is to pay a professional editor, and to be very careful which one you choose, but I understand not every writer can always afford to do so, especially with the first few books.

There are a lot of people still very prejudiced against indie books because of their lower standard of editing, however, so it is in every indie author’s best interests to make sure their book is as spelling and grammer mistake free as they possibly can. It also can’t help to do so when applying to agents and traditional publishers either.

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4 Responses
  1. Chris says:

    Always glad to help 😀 I am still tempted to read the handwritten book as it is, but may save it for when I have kids, as reading a book by an even more awesome friend would be very special!

    You’ve forgotten the one you do instinctively but not all other authors will; write out by hand first and then type up. That can help a lot as rereading what you’ve written can be a really useful first step.

    Also would suggest reformatting dramatically. Change of font colour, background colour and style will cause the brain to read what is actually there rather than just assume what is there and skim. I’ve found that a great help with blog entries.

    • Jess says:

      Awesome suggestions, thanks Chris. I had indeed forgotten both of those.

      I do now have an image of you as a really old man sitting in one of those huge leather armchairs looking all santa claus kinda style, with lots of little kids at your feet, while you read to them from the really old hand written book on your lap.

      • Chris says:

        You know thats exactly the kind of image I have too now. Was thinking more of a reading it to one in my lap and putting on lots of voices sort of deal, but that sounds like more fun. Its curious, I see me as having no beard when I’m just a dad but growing one again when I become a grandpa. It almost seems natural that in old age you forget where you razor is. Though its not a common association that woman have hairy legs in their old age. Wonder if you will.

        • Jess says:

          Only another artist could derail a post about editing to whether I will have hairy legs when I’m old in only 3 comments.

          I do hope I’ll have pulled them out so many times that by then they will have just given up growing back. We’ll see though. I can’t say for sure either.

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